An Examination of “From Hell”: How Hollywood’s Interpretation Lost the Facts From the Case
There have been many interpretations, theories and conspiracies surrounding the murders of 1888, and the possibilities remain endless as to who “Jack the Ripper” could possibly have been. Was there a purpose to the mayhem and panic that enveloped Whitechapel from August to November? Many ideas are available concerning what potential motive the Ripper was operating on as he committed these grisly crimes, and one such conspiracy was presented in the 2001 film From Hell, staring Johnny Depp, that supported the budding idea of the royal family conspiring with the free masons. Yet there were a few discrepancies that did not necessarily fall in line with the true details of the Whitechapel murders.
In From Hell, Johnny Depp plays the role of Inspector Frederick Abberline the man in charge of the Ripper murders in Whitechapel. Abberline was portrayed in the movie adaptation as a clairvoyant who was addicted to opium; however no such visions were ever a part of Abberline’s investigation tactics. The filmmakers may have used the police’s attempt to solve the Whitechapel murders, by calling upon psychic, however his “visions” were never confirmed, making this distortion a Hollywood fantasy.
Along with the obvious flaws in the characters’ profiles, there were also many inaccuracies within the murders of the movie versus what is know about the actual murders. For instance, in From Hell, the five prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper were depicted as not just acquaintances, but as friends deeply involved in each other’s lives. There is little if any evidence to support the idea that the victims ever knew or had ever even met one another, making the scenes where they share doss house rooms, walk the streets in pairs, and attend the funeral of another together, not entirely plausible, though good movie scripting. Another relationship shown in the movie, yet absent in actual reality was Inspector Abberline and Mary Jane Kelly’s affection toward each other. The idea that the two had a love affair and that Mary Jane Kelly escaped the clutches of death with Annie Chapman’s daughter to her little village, appeals to every romantic movie lover’s inner soul; however, it contradicts the facts of the case. Although Mary Kelly did have a woman living with her at the time, and the face of the body was mutilated beyond certain recognition, it is probable that she was indeed the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper.
Many propositions were incorporated within the film, many of which were facts that had only been assumed or suggested regarding the Ripper’s actions. An example of this included in the movie, Abberline finding the grape stem on every victim’s body. Grapes were a luxury not easily attained by women who took to prostitution to gain rooms or drink for a night, and by inserting the falsity of grape stems near every women, the movie asserted that the perpetrator must be a member of the upper-class. The only instance suggesting this fruit’s involvement during the actual investigation of the murders was a fruit purveyor, Matthew Packer, who claimed he had sold a man and Elizabeth Stride grapes. However, it is doubtful that Packer could remember everyone who he had seen that night, not to mention the deceased tend to look differently alive then dead. Packer choosing to relay this information to the news reporters, rather than the police also causes him to seem more the type of citizen seeking publicity than an creditable witness to “Lucky Liz’s” demise.
Other liberties taken during From Hell took place upon the discovery of Catherine Eddows’ s body. For instance, in the movie, after her murder Jack the Ripper washed his blood stained hand in a nearby street puddle. Although it has been suggested that the Ripper may have washed his hands in a water trough situated near the crime scene there is no substantiation to this theory, or any confirmation that this could result in new evidence. It is also not certain that the bit on cloth found near Eddows was in fact used by the killer to wipe off his bloody knife, it has however been proposed that the bit of cloth or apron was being used by Eddows as a rudimentary sanitary napkin for her menstrual cycle.
Another example of an inaccuracy found in the film was the writing on the wall found after Eddows’s death. The movie illustrated the chalk writings extremely close to the crime scene when in fact the message was a decent distance away, causing a few to question its entire relevance and proximity to the case. How the Ripper obtained the chalk is another indiscretion, because in the screen version the killer asked his accomplice for a bit of chalk while it isn’t know for certain if there was in fact a second collaborator in these crimes.
The conspiracy presented in From Hell would have the audience believe that there were in fact many accomplices in these murders, as it was part of a royal cover up to protect Prince Albert, also Annie Chapman’s lover and husband in the film. The film suggests that the free masons worked with the royal family to ensure the secret marriage and child was never discovered, and why the murders appeared to be ritualistic in nature. It also explained why after the death of Mary Jane Kelly, Jack the Ripper seemed to mysteriously vanish and the reign of terror come to a halt. The entire motivation behind these crimes had been absolved.
The discrepancies between the film adaptation From Hell with the conclusive evidence and occurrences of the Jack the Ripper murders ranges from minor details to absolute falsehoods. The movie attempted to encompass a wide variety of theories surrounding the murders of 1888, and although the compromising of details may adhere to a movie screen it skews the actual facts and hard evidence that is credible to the actual happenings of that Fall. Because so little is known about what did take place on those fateful nights, it is easy to speculated what “could have happened” or what “makes sense”, yet nothing matters if there is no evidence to substantiate these guesses. What is known is the grisly nature of these crimes caused them to become legendary and easy to manipulate into good screenplays, however it is similar to saying the Ripper vanished into the foggy night, when there was in fact no fog to be found within London: a fabrication of reality into alluring fiction.